Blue-Light Special

When it came to guns, the Overland cops weren't just playing around

Back in 1995, then-state Auditor Margaret Kelly rapped Overland for its poor record-keeping, finding "various expenditures were noted which did not have adequate supporting documentation." (The audit criticized expenditures and documentation on a variety of things -- flowers for city officials and others, travel, service contracts and property -- but didn't examine gun purchases.) As Kelly's finding suggested, Overland may simply not have records of what it's bought and sold over the years.

And the past is slipping from memory as the cast of characters changes in Overland. Even at the police department, many of the veterans have quit or retired; many of those who lived in the city have moved away.

Williams returned to Arkansas, near his birthplace of Searcy, but he occasionally visits Overland.

"Overland was buying and selling guns.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line." - Don Gault, former Overland police 

"Overland was buying and selling guns.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line." - Don Gault, former Overland police


"Overland was buying and selling guns.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line." -- Don Gault, former Overland police officer
Geoffrey Grahn
"Overland was buying and selling guns.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line." -- Don Gault, former Overland police officer

After Ronnie Wilhoit left the police department, he moved to Arizona and now runs a mobile-home park near Tucson. Wilhoit, whose federal firearms license expired in 1995, says he misses police work "every once in a while but not enough to get back into it."

Kessler, now 53, was rehired at City Hall a month after Dody was elected in 1998. Kessler's not eager to revisit the controversies that damaged the city, the police department and his own career: "It was all politically motivated and hurt a bunch of people at the time -- and most of the guys are gone who created the problem. So I'd just as soon not stir up the pot again."

Coffell, who filed suit against Overland in October, claiming he was unlawfully terminated, is general manager of a security company. In April, he lost a bid for a seat on the Overland City Council, finishing a distant third. "After going out a couple times and knocking on doors and seeing the apathy of people, I said, 'I don't care what happens here,'" Coffell says. "I guess I was naïve -- (I thought) people do care. But I'm not so sure they do anymore."

Karam, the public-works director, was fired last fall. He declined to be interviewed, citing plans to file his own lawsuit against the city.

After Coffell was named chief, Turner was given a desk job that entailed no clear responsibilities and gave him no staff. He remained in that position under Herron until early this year, when he was named watch commander on the undesirable midnight shift. After 27 years on the police force, Turner, 48, retired in June and now works as an investigator for the state Department of Labor. He did not want to be interviewed.

O'Brien, who retired from the police force at age 41, says he quit because he no longer had the appetite for police work in Overland. "I saw the reputation getting worse, and I just wanted to get out of there to protect my own integrity," he says.

It's a familiar refrain. Mike Blair quit the department in October after 10 years: "I had a bellyful there -- the way they do business.... There are still a lot of people who work up there who are decent people, but they're still conducting business in Overland like they did in the 1950s."

Gault, whose roller-coaster career included a demotion to patrolman, then a promotion to lieutenant, retired from the department in March 1999 after 20 years. Now 45, he works as a consultant for a security-alarm company. "I'd say 65 to 75 percent of the cops in Overland don't know a damn thing about any of this," Gault says. "They weren't there when it went on, they're all new people, and even some of the guys who were there then weren't involved. But they're all going to take a hit off this."

Frank Munsch, who now lives in Chesterfield, says he still loves Overland but sure hated his last term in office. As for the city officials now running the city, Munsch volunteers: "They are, the best way to put it, very honest people."

And what of Chris Sarros, whose insistent demand for his guns had folks turning over rocks at the police department?

Sarros, now 80 and remarried, recently underwent surgery but still makes it back to the St. Louis area occasionally. He's met with every police chief since Williams, asking about his guns, and still hopes the city will, at the very least, reimburse him, says his wife, Mary. But she's not as optimistic.

"He lived in Overland so long, I guess he wants to try to follow all the procedures, but they're not going to do anything -- they're just giving him the runaround," she says. "They think he's going to die and it's going to go away.

"We're not going to go away."

For more information, see Gun Club.

Related Links:
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Access reports, rules and other firearms information from this site

The National Rifle Association of America. The leading organization advocating Second Amendment rights in the nation.

Handgun Control. A leading pro-gun control organization.

Handgun Control's Web site -- you can download a copy of the city of St. Louis's lawsuit against the gun industry

The International Association of Chiefs of Police.This group has passed a resolution opposing gun trade-ins by police departments.

Glock GmbH. Web site of the gun-manufacturer, parent of Glock Inc. of Smyrna, Georgia.

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